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A real estate language primer

A few terms to know before you buy a home

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Before you start the home buying process, there are a few key terms to know.

When working with first-time buyers, I often hear them say, “I have a stupid question.” I automatically respond that there’s no such thing. 

What they think may be a stupid question almost invariably has been asked before by many other people in the same situation. The answer to a stupid question almost always makes you smarter, so what they really have may be a “smart question.”

Several questions that were recently asked of me have prompted me to take another look at what I discuss in my initial buyer consultations, so let’s start there. 

A Buyer Consultation is an initial meeting with a buyer, whether face-to-face, by telephone, or by Zoom or similar interactive means, where we exchange information about the buyer’s needs and the services I provide and determine whether we shall work together exclusively and for how long.

If we decide to go forward, we sign an Exclusive Buyer Representation Agreement, which allows an agent to be the buyer’s advocate by solely representing the buyer’s interests in a real estate transaction, protecting the buyer’s confidentiality, and providing essential services reserved for a client-based relationship. In the DMV, absent such an agreement, agents must legally represent and owe allegiance to a seller they have never met of a property they have never seen.

In D.C., our real estate contracts consist of 33 paragraphs of boilerplate language vetted by a committee of agents, brokers, and attorneys, updated as needed to comply with legislative changes and regulatory requirements. In other words, they contain a lot of “legalese.” In addition, there are a plethora of addenda that may apply to a real estate transaction.

It is important, therefore, for clients to understand what they are reading before signing and, rather than simply having buyers sign an offer electronically, I believe in providing them with a sample contract package and reviewing both the documents and the process with them to explain terms, market norms, and potential consequences of making certain choices.

The terms below seldom change in any meaningful way and learning them can be a good way to begin to understand the contract process.

Time is of the Essence, which is found at the top of our purchase contract, means that deadlines are fixed. There is no “wait just a minute more” unless both parties agree to an extension of time in writing.

An Earnest Money Deposit, generally an amount in excess of 3% of the offered price, accompanies or follows an offer and is held by a real estate brokerage or settlement firm until needed at closing. 

The terms Settlement and Closing are interchangeable and denote the signing and recording of documents transferring the property from seller to buyer.

A Contingency is a condition that must be met for the contract to proceed to settlement. An example might involve a satisfactory home inspection or appraisal, sale of a prior home, or receipt of financing. Compare it to a situation unrelated to real estate, such as “if you wear a mask, then you may enter the grocery store and shop.”

Home Inspections are typically conducted after a contract is Ratified, meaning all parties have agreed to the price and terms. They may allow for repairs to be negotiated with the sellers or for simple acceptance or rejection of the property based on the findings. Some buyers opt for a Walk-and-Talk inspection, which is conducted prior to submitting an offer. The cost is less, since buyers take their own notes and no report is issued. The offer the buyers make will be well-received by the sellers without the delay of a contingency. 

An Appraisal is ordered by the lender to determine the value of the property and whether that value supports the amount of the loan being made to the buyers. Don’t confuse this with an Assessment conducted by city assessors to determine value for property tax purposes. 

A Title Search is conducted to determine that there is nothing in the chain of ownership that would prevent the sale of the home. Title Insurance insulates the lender from issues such as fraud, forgery, liens, and other items that may not have been discovered in the initial search. The buyers may also purchase title insurance to similarly protect themselves.

In closing, a word about Closing Costs, the amounts paid to lenders, attorneys, brokers, and municipal offices at settlement for expenses incurred in completing the property transfer. The earnest money you have on deposit will be credited to you for these one-time costs or for the remainder of your downpayment. As J. G. Wentworth says, “It’s your money. Use it when you need it.”

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs

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Real Estate

Helpful tips for homebuyers in seller’s market

2021 has been a great year for home sales

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COVID-19 housing market, gay news, Washington Blade

Without question, 2021 was a great year for home sales. Sellers across the country, in many cases, found themselves listing their homes and quickly having not just one, but multiple offers, many of which were at asking price or above. With limited inventory and high demand, it has been an ideal year to sell—and conversely, often a difficult year to buy. Buyers who are interested in a particular home, or even in a specific neighborhood, often find themselves facing stiff competition to have offers accepted. 

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that many buyers haven’t had successful and rewarding home buying experiences—just that doing so often means making an extra effort and taking helpful steps to make an offer the most competitive that it can be. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few helpful tips for buyers in a seller’s market:

  • Plan ahead with mortgage pre-approval: While there are certainly a wide variety of strategies that real estate agents and financial advisors may recommend, and while those strategies might vary depending upon the buyer and the circumstances of a particular market, one thing almost all experts agree on is that obtaining a mortgage preapproval is a smart decision. A mortgage preapproval is an ideal way to reassure sellers that a reputable lender has verified your credit and approved your buying power up to a certain limit. If you’re caught in a bidding war with another potential buyer, having preapproval establishing that you are ready, willing, and able to buy just might give you the advantage you need in a competitive market.
  • Be willing to look under budget so you can bid higher: In this highly competitive market, many home buyers find themselves in a situation where they are in a bidding war with another—or even several other—buyers. In that situation, you may find yourself having to make an offer at, or even in many cases, above, the asking price. This means that you may want to adjust your budget—and bidding—accordingly. Choosing to make an offer on a home that has an asking price that is already at the top of your budget may mean that you simply don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to making an offer over that price. Choosing a home slightly under the top of your budget means you’ll have more flexibility to make a bid that is more competitive and likely to be accepted.
  • Consider offering non-price-oriented incentives: Without question, making a highly competitive offer is going to be the key to increasing your chances of having that offer accepted. It’s important to remember that there is more to an offer than just price, however. Buyers may want to consider increasing the appeal of an offer by supplementing it with other incentives beyond just the dollar amount itself. Examples of such incentives might include things like foregoing the seller-paid home warranty that is often offered as part of the process, offering a shorter closing period, not making the purchase contingent upon the sale of a currently-owned home, or other such incentives. Doing so may give you the edge you need to have your offer selected over other competitive bids.
  • Retain the right real estate agent: Often, for LGBTQ buyers, especially in a competitive market, this piece of the puzzle is particularly important. In many, although certainly not all, cases LGBTQ buyers are drawn to specific areas of a city or community where other LGBTQ individuals live. That means that in a market where inventory is already limited and going quickly, there can be even fewer homes available upon which to bid. When that is the case, you will need a real estate agent who knows the community that you’re interested in, and who can quickly help you identify and take action toward making offers on homes that fit your needs. Having the right agent can make all the difference between a smooth and successful home-buying experience, and a stressful one

Jeff Hammerberg (he/him/his) is the Founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526, [email protected] or GayRealEstate.com

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Real Estate

Help, I’m under contract!  They accepted my offer?!

Buyer and seller need to work as a team

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What are the most common questions real estate agents, title companies and lenders get once a client is under contract? Well, luckily on my team we send out a next steps letter to all of our clients once an offer has been accepted and this helps them to know what to do the first week, the second week, and in any subsequent weeks before the settlement.  

For example, the letter will go out and say, “Make sure to get your EMD check to the title company in the agreed upon amount of time.” The EMD is your earnest money deposit, and most contracts have a buyer write a check for several thousands of dollars that will go the title company as sort of a “security deposit” on a contract that later gets applied to the buyers’ closing costs.

The letter will also instruct a buyer to contact their lender and confirm with them that they are under contract and to get the contract over to the lender so they can start preparing the loan and order the appraisal. The letter also states that later in the process the buyer will get the wiring instructions from the title company where settlement will be held for the down payment money. If there is to be a home inspection, we will also get that scheduled, usually in the first week after going under contract also.  

If selling, the letter is a different one with information about moving companies and getting any staging out of the listing. Both parties will receive instructions on how to change the utilities from the seller to the buyer the week of settlement. The title company will also follow up with the buyers and sellers to get any needed info. They will ask any questions necessary to possibly help the buyer to get any deductions or credits they might qualify for that could lower their closing costs. A good lender will do this also.

What each buyer and seller needs is good teamwork to make the dream work whenever a house is changing hands and a large transaction is going to be handled. For more information, you can contact me to attend my next Homebuyer’s Seminar on Oct. 12 in the evening, which will be on Zoom.  

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor at the Rutstein Group of Compass. Reach him at 703-587-0597 or at [email protected].

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Real Estate

Jenn Smira Team fighting to make world a better place

Join us in the fight against cancer

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Elvin Merlo is boxing on behalf of a friend who died of brain cancer.

At The Jenn Smira Team, we don’t just talk about making the world a better place, we fight to make it happen — literally. Case in point: this fall, Elvin Merlo (one of our very own agents) has been selected to fight in the Haymakers for Hope Beltway Brawl. What does that mean, exactly? On Nov. 4, Elvin will compete in a three-round amateur boxing match to raise money for cancer research. Read on to learn more about Elvin’s fight and the cause that compelled him to step into the ring.

A little bit about H4H: Haymakers for Hope is a 501(c)(3) charity organization that gives all of us the opportunity to fight back against cancer. The organization helps others like Elvin train for — and compete in — a sanctioned charity boxing event to raise funds for cancer research, care, awareness, and survivorship. To prepare for each event, they combine the efforts of local boxing gyms and volunteers, and match each contestant up with someone of a similar experience level (even if that experience level is “none”).

The H4H History: In 2009, H4H founders Andrew Myerson and Julie Anne Kelly participated in the New York City Golden Gloves, one of the most highly regarded amateur boxing tournaments in the U.S. After the lights went down, they realized that something was missing, and decided then and there to channel their fighting spirit to raise money for cancer research instead. This planted the seeds for Haymakers for Hope. Today, H4H gives people just like you the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete in their first-ever sanctioned boxing event while supporting a worthy cause at the same time. The experience is impactful, challenging, and life changing, and the march toward a cure continues long after the last match of the night.

Why Elvin Fights: Elvin fights for David Black, his dear friend who recently passed away after a nearly seven-year battle with brain cancer. He was only 33 years old and left behind his wife, Jen, and two beautiful children.

While it’s nearly impossible to capture John in just a few words, the ones that might do it best are perhaps: “I want to be like John when I grow up.” It’s a phrase that his father, John Sr., could often be overheard saying and a sentiment the rest of his family would all be quick to echo.

John was a force. He loved his family and friends above all else and radiated a quiet resolve that comforted those around him. He faced adversity with unflappable courage and never missed an opportunity to elicit a smile with his wry sense of humor, no matter the hardship he faced.

John truly embodied the warrior spirit, which is why Elvin knew there was only one way to honor him: to fight. That’s why on Nov. 4, he’ll step into the boxing ring and join 27 other fighters for a three-round sanctioned boxing event while raising money for cancer research, care, awareness, and survivorship.

Fundraising Specifics: Elvin is raising money for Dr. John Laterra’s research at John’s Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Dr. Laterra oversaw John’s treatment, and is internationally recognized for his clinical expertise and research on the mechanisms of brain tumor malignancy.

Compass Cares empowers agents and employees alike to support meaningful causes right where it counts most: at home. Compass has already pledged $15,000 to support Elvin in his fight against cancer. 

Will you join the fight? Visit haymakersforhope.org to make your donation today.

Jenn Smira is a Realtor and executive vice president at the Jenn Smira Team. Reach her at 202-340-7675 or via jennsmira.com.

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